On March 14, 2019, Congressman Mark Walker of North Carolina introduced the Student-Athlete Equity Act. The Act purports to amend the tax code so that amateur sports organizations such as the NCAA can no longer strip student-athletes of their publicity rights. Publicity rights are a person's right to control the commercial use of their name, image, and likeness. Currently, college athletes are required to relinquish control of those rights when they agree to engage in a collegiate sport.
If signed into law, the Student-Athlete Equity Act would return those basic rights to college athletes. Doing so would go a long way in the pay-for-play debate. Opponents of paying college athletes argue that there simply is not enough money. They further contend that paying college athletes would bankrupt the schools. Opponents also argue that such payments could lead to issues with Title IX compliance.
With these concerns, it would seem that allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness would be a no brainer. This simple modification would move the needle forward in creating a more equitable college athletics system. However, the problem lies in the fact that the NCAA does not sincerely wish to create a more equitable system. They demonstrated this in their response to the Student-Athlete Equity Act.
The NCAA's Response to the Student-Athlete Equity Act
In the response, the NCAA further affirmed its true purpose; protecting amateurism. The NCAA reaffirmed its contention that in order to protect amateurism, college athletes must not receive any benefit that is "untethered to education." The NCAA called the bill unnecessary. The organization further argued that the bill "may only benefit a small number of student-athletes and cause unintended consequences and negatively impact opportunities for all other college athletes." This assumption was a major leap. How does the NCAA know who will benefit from the legislation? The answer is that they do not know. The NCAA's fear is that it may actually benefit college athletes and expose amateurism for the farce that is.
The Bill Could and Most Likely Will Benefit the Majority of College Athletes
Restoring the publicity rights of college athletes would be monumental in remedying the injustices in the college athletics system. It could finally give college athletes a viable stake in the billion-dollar industry their labor propels. College athletes would be able to garner endorsement deals from companies like Nike, Adidas, or Gatorade. Additionally, college athletes would be able to garner endorsement deals with local businesses in the towns their schools are located.
Many areas where colleges are located are regarded as "college towns." Almost everyone in the town feels a kinship towards the school and its teams. Accordingly, it is highly likely that local businesses would offer endorsement deals as well. These types of opportunities would go a long way to help every college athlete. Local companies may even offer endorsements to lesser-known college athletes. Specifically, those that attend local Division II and Division III colleges. Those schools tend to have a strong local presence and connection with the local community.
With the plethora of possible opportunities, it difficult to understand why an organization that claims to work for the college athlete's best interest would be so against it. Especially, when allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness would not cost the schools nor NCAA any extra money. Furthermore, it does not present any Title IX issues. It would seem that the NCAA would view the Act as a positive and as an opportunity to teach college athletes important life skills.
The NCAA Should View the Act and a Positive and as a Teaching Opportunity
The NCAA and its member institutions could introduce college athletes to a whole new world. The world of financial empowerment. With endorsement opportunities, the NCAA and the schools could teach college athletes about contracts and how to negotiate. They could teach college athletes about financial planning and how to invest. In short, the NCAA could teach college athletes life skills to help them best use their endorsement money and the future earnings from their highly valued degrees.
Together with the earnings from their endorsements, the earnings from their degrees, and their financial literacy training, college athletes would be in a position to truly experience upward mobility and build wealth. Implementing these sorts of initiatives would go a long way to push the NCAA's student-athlete welfare agenda. Will this ever happen? Probably not, because the NCAA's primary concern is preserving amateurism.